A Poetry Interlude, Illustrated

Quinn doesn’t like to speak in front of people, especially in class at school. So when I found out that every other month he would have to memorize and perform a poem in front of his reading class, I had one of those die-a-little-inside moments.

I knew that Quinn often freezes then meltdowns if asked to do so much as read in front of the class, so I knew the fastest way to send him into a panic was to make him perform—with props and emotion—something he’d memorized.

I contacted his teacher, asking for an accommodation. I suggested that he be able to do it just for her and not in front of the class. She came back with a suggestion that he do it at home and I videotape it.

Boom. That is how you teach kids who learn differently.

I was thrilled. Quinn was relieved, but still worried. He didn’t think he could memorize a whole poem. We worked on two lines a night and by the end of the month, he (and the rest of the family) had his whole poem memorized. We taped it and he got the highest score possible. He was so damn proud.

That was October. This month he had to do another one. All of the poems to choose from were either longer or more complicated than the one he’d picked for October. I was worried. Quinn ended up picking “The Lion” by Roald Dahl.

I felt good about his choice because it’s a funny little poem that I thought would make Quinn laugh. Unfortunately I didn’t think about the fact that there is basically a complicated list within the poem that made it tough for him to keep things in the right order.

To help him, I suggested that he draw some pictures of the subject of that list so he could keep the order straight while he was trying to memorize. Then he could use the pictures as props when performing the poem for the camera.

Quinn doesn’t want me to post the video on the internet, but he told me I could post his pictures. So. Without further ado, I present to you “The Lion” by Roald Dahl as illustrated by Quinn.

Screen capture of Quinn in his YouTube video holding up a picture he drew of "roasted lamb."

This screen capture is the closest I can ethically come to posting Quinn’s video. Isn’t he cute?

The lion just adores to eat
A lot of red and tender meat
And if you ask the lion what
Is much the tenderest of the lot,
He will not say a roast of lamb

A pencil drawing of a lamb face inside a flame.

See how the lamb is on fire? He’s roasting. (Oh yeah. It’s about to get intense up in here.)

Or curried beef

Pencil drawing of a cow with the words "curried beef" above it.

I didn’t really know how to advise Quinn to draw curried beef so he just drew a really cute cow.

or devilled ham

Pencil drawing of a pig head with devil horns.

Don’t mess with Devil Pig.

Or crispy pork

Pencil drawing of a pig head with an exclamation point over his head. He is also inside a flame.

I think—THINK—that the pig is alarmed to be on fire.

or corned beef hash

Drawing of a cow with a corn cob body. Quinn has labeled the body with "corn" just in case there is any doubt.

This is another one of those hard-to-draw ones. I think Quinn came up with an excellent idea of how to illustrate it.

Or sausages

Drawing of a conveyor belt with a machine in the middle. Visible in front of the machine is half a pig. Sausages are coming out the back.

And that’s how sausages are made out of pigs.

or mutton mash.

Drawing of a lamb being crushed (or mashed if you prefer) by a mallet from the ceiling.

This one took me a minute to get, but I think it’s one of my favorites. (See that lamb getting mashed?)

Then could it be a big plump hen?

Drawing of a hen.

I don’t think I need to explain this one.

He answers no. What is it, then?
Oh, lion dear, could I not make
You happy with a lovely steak?

Drawing of a steak with the words "lovely steak" written above it. There is a heart floating above the steak.

I like the simplicity of this one.

Could I entice you from your lair
With rabbit pie or roasted hare?

Both rabbit pie and roasted hare are on this one. The roasted hare is on fire on a spit. For the pie, well, there is a rabbit sticking out of a pie.

I think Quinn got tired of drawing here at the end. I even had to remind him to put long ears on his bunnies.

The lion smiled and shook his head.
He came up very close and said,
‘The meat I am about to chew
Is neither steak nor chops. IT’S YOU.’

I feel as if Mr. Dahl would be proud. I hope his teacher likes it as much as I do.

How to Choose a Christmas Card Photo

I addressed most of my Christmas cards last night. As a result, my hand is cramped into an unfortunate claw position. Rest assured though that if your last name starts with one of the first letters of the alphabet, your address will be legible and delivered correctly.

I cannot make the same promise for you Zs. In fact, anyone Winegardner or later stands a good chance of having their card misdelivered due to an address written with a highly suspect claw-shaped pen grip.

In case you’re wondering, this was Alex’s contribution to the holiday card endeavor:

Photo of Alex licking an envelope.

I always make Alex lick the envelopes. This year he was all, “Can’t you help?!” as if he were being put upon to do the lion’s share of work. I think my expression gave him all the answer he needed.

Clearly if I sent out cards, I managed to take a photo worthy of being put on the card. (Operating under the assumption that I always put a photo on the card, which I do.) That photo was not easy to obtain. I looked through an entire year of photos of my three kids and couldn’t find one that met my high standards (read: three children, no one crying).

Dammit. Time to take a photo.

The resulting photo shoot took two evenings, one meltdown, the decision to eliminate flash photography for sensory reasons, and me shouting, “CAT BUTT!” to make my kids laugh.

Still, it was a struggle.

Photo of my three kids. They are all making faces and it looks like Sam is trying to strangle his brother.

And this was when they were in a good mood.

Even though my kids aren’t always cooperative for group photos, I did have some other options to consider.

There was the gerbil substitution:

Photo of three of my gerbils gathered around a seed bell.

Hand one of them a flute, put an Xbox controller in another hand, and you’d never be able to tell that they’re not my human children.

There was the absolutely hilarious cat photo option:

Photo of a light-up snowman decoration, in front of which is Ruby the cat peering into the camera lens.

I especially love that you can see a second cat in the background clearly wondering what the hell the new floor lamp is all about. (That’s a snowman by the way.)

There was the first-night pre-meltdown photo session option:

All three of my kids. Sam looks all right, but Quinn's eyes are closed and Jack has wet and wild hair.

I only managed to take two photos that night before the whole system broke down, for which I take full responsibility.

There was the hand-drawn option:

Drawing of three stick figures sitting on a couch. Underneath it says "I love you mom —Sam"

This is actually kinda my favorite.

There was the festive but not super flattering Santa photo:

Photo of my three kids sitting with Santa. No one looks particularly good in it, including Santa.

I love that Santa and Quinn have the exact same grimace-smile.

There was the “my family can’t make funny faces if only the backs of their heads are in the photo” option:

Photo in which Alex and two of my kids are faced away from the camera, peering out of a tiny window. I am facing the camera with a big smile on my face.

This was inside the Washington Monument. Quinn was huddled as far away from the window as he could get.

And then there is probably the best option, the one that I dare any of you to find fault with:

Photo of a couch on which no one is sitting.

Not a funny face anywhere to be seen.

None of these actually ended up on the card, which some of you will be getting in the mail and some of you will be seeing posted here on Christmas.

And now that that is done, I begin my quest to take a suitable photo of all three of my children for next year’s card. I’m not kidding. It’s a twelve-month process. Wish me luck.

Oh, hiya!

Are you still there?

Things are good here, but super busy. We’ve had family in town since before Thanksgiving and I had this early-December realization that I had to prepare for Christmas and then my kids had seventy-five million events over the past three weeks and things were very overwhelming and suddenly here it is, mid-December and I’ve neglected you, my wonderful friends from the computer.

So, hello! How are you? I hope you’re enjoying the beginning of winter.

One thing that I’ve been up to is running. I had a couple of really fun races last month. The first was the Across the Bay 10K, where I got to run across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. Then I ran another 10K on Thanksgiving, which was fun, but challenging considering those two races, and maybe one or two other runs, were the only times I ran more than four miles at a stretch in the whole month.

Which leads me to my next topic.

I’ve been doing a running streak. For both of the past two years, November and December have been tough for me in keeping up with my running, so I decided to do a Thanksgiving to New Year’s streak, where I run at least one mile every day.

You want to know something? I don’t want to run at least one mile every day. This streak is the worst idea in the whole entire world. I have had a bunch of days already when I’ve had to get on my treadmill at 8:30 at night because I haven’t had a chance to run all day. One day, it was almost ten in the pm by the time I was able to get on the treadmill. It sucked.

That said, I’ve run every single stupid day and I’ll probably do another streak again next year. Because there is nothing to keep me moving like the threat of some imaginary failure.

The fun part of the run streak is that Alex is starting to run, so we’ve been doing it together. It’s a little tougher for him to find time to do it, so we’re not able to run together very often, but it’s been super fun when we do.

Alex is kicking butt at it too. He’s already able to run more than a mile and a quarter without walking and totals a couple of miles each time we go out. I’m super proud of him.

Now, while I am willing to commit to a run streak, I am not confident in my ability to commit to a blogging streak. (Maybe I could get Alex to help me out on that too?) But! I am going to try to write more often. Because I miss this space. And I miss you.

So happy December! I’m looking forward to seeing more of you this month!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Quinn has a new guru. It is Grumpy Cat. If you’re familiar with Quinn’s work, this totally makes sense.

I tell you this because when Quinn thought he had to make a sign to carry at his school’s Turkey Trot activity, he wanted to incorporate Grumpy Cat. Because what says happy thanksgiving, like a cat in a terrible mood? More on this later.

The Turkey Trot was supposed to be a mile-long walk through the neighborhood around the school with parents invited to join in, followed by hot chocolate. Unfortunately the weather today was a heavy mix of rain and snow and hail, so instead of cruising through the neighborhood, the kiddos tried to run as many of the 24.1 laps around the gym that makes up a mile.

Perhaps because of the venue change, I was the only parent from Quinn’s class who showed up to watch the kiddos run, walk, skip, dance, and otherwise ambulate around the gym.

I only went because Quinn was expecting me and I wasn’t about to change the script on him because of the rain. I’m so glad I did. I got to watch him smile and laugh and talk and play with his new good friend in the classroom. I got to see him talk to a kid I’ve never even heard of before. I got to talk to a lot of teachers and paraeducators who work with Quinn that I hadn’t met. I got to see him show his sign to all the staff, who told him how great it was.

I got to see him be happy and comfortable at school. Even knowing that he still struggles there, that means so much to me.

So even though Grumpy Cat might not approve of a happy thanksgiving, I sure do.

Photo of Quinn holding a sign. The sign has a picture of a turkey he drew under the words "happy thanksgiving." Then there is a photo of Grumpy Cat, with a line indicating that he is saying NO.

May all of you, American celebrators or not, have a wonderful day full of love and joy and smiles. And hopefully cats, grumpy or otherwise.

Who Thought Trees Were Such a Good Idea Anyway?

Team Stimey spent a chunk of the weekend raking leaves. And by “Team Stimey,” I mean Alex, Sam, and I. The other two showed themselves to be far too unmotivated to participate so they escaped this particular fate.

My family operates on a “prove yourself to be incompetent and you no longer have to do the chore” system. It is inefficient.

Selfie of me, Alex and Sam in front of a pile of leaves. Sam is wearing his black fedora.

Team Stimey: Leaf Raking Edition

You may notice that Sam’s jazz band hat is also a leaf raking hat.

I bring up the leaf raking for a couple of reasons. First of all, there were some fun things that happened during said leaf raking and I thought I would share them with you. Also, we won our street’s leaf raking and I wanted to brag about it.

Photo of Sam and Alex dumping a tarp load of leaves onto a GIANT PILE.

Our neighbors didn’t know that they were involved in a Leaf Off, but we did and that is what matters.

I don’t know why we moved into a house with so many stupid trees in the yard, but we did, and now we are paying the price. So. Many. Leaves.

Photo of Alex and Sam dragging a tarp full of leaves past the back of our house where there is a tree, full of red leaves.

DROP YOUR STUPID LEAVES ALREADY, TREE!

I’m looking forward to all of the tracking in of leaves once that tree up there finally drops its leaves right next to our back door in, you know, December. Or January. ENOUGH ALREADY, TREE. WHY ARE YOU HOLDING ON SO HARD?

I tried to avoid leaf raking and hang inside with Quinn and Jack, but Alex used his patented mix of guilt, exasperation, and annoyance to get me outside with a rake in my hands. He then spent a lot of time telling me about how his way to rake and transport leaves was correct and mine was not and, “Let’s just do it right the first time and then we don’t have to re-rake up all the leaves.” It was très annoying—especially when he was right.

On the plus side, I got to see this awesome visitor to our yard:

Photo of a giant antlered stag in profile. He just started loping away from our yard.

I watched one of our cats see this guy the last time he was in our yard. Her little cat eyeballs almost popped out of her head.

I also got to do things like distract Sam and generally be a nuisance while Alex steadfastly did things.

Sam in his hat holding a rake and posing for my photo while Alex rakes in the background.

At least he could take comfort in the knowledge that he was doing it right.

At some point—because Alex had to be somewhere, not because we ran out of leaves, we’ll never run out of leaves—we made a decision to be done.

Then I shoved Alex in the pile of leaves.

You can see a pile of leaves with the bottom half of Alex's body sticking out. His head and shoulders are completely buried.

It was HILARIOUS.

Then Sam and Alex got this…look in their eyes and I started running and screaming because I know it is funny to throw people into a pile of leaves, but it is NOT funny to be thrown in a pile of leaves because DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW MANY SPIDERS ARE PROBABLY IN THERE?! so I tried to sprint through the garage door into the house, but they caught me and they didn’t listen when I told them, “No. Really. I’m serious about this. I don’t want to be thrown into the pile of leaves. I really, really don’t,” but this came out sounding more like a high-pitched screech that turned out to be surprisingly ineffectual.

And then they threw me in a pile of leaves.

Me in a pile of leaves. I don't look happy.

I’m pretty sure the spiders laid their eggs in my hair.

Now we’re looking into a tree slaughter, under the assumption that if we cut down all of our trees, we won’t have to rake any leaves next year.*

* Kidding. But wouldn’t that have its charms?

In Defense of Jerry Seinfeld

I should start by saying that I have been scripting Seinfeld the TV show for years. If you’re talking to me and I bust out with some non sequitur that is only semi-appropriate to the situation, odds are that Jerry Seinfeld said it first.

So I was interested when I first saw news reports about Jerry Seinfeld saying he thinks he might be on the spectrum. And then I felt happy. And then I checked social media and I saw lots of anger at him. And then I felt kinda sad and I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

Here’s the thing: I don’t know Jerry Seinfeld. I don’t know his private life. I don’t know how he came to the conclusion that he is autistic. And what’s probably most important, I don’t know his inner life—what goes on inside his own head. None of us do, so I don’t think we are qualified to weigh in on whether he is autistic or not.

Here’s something else: It is very scary as an adult to come out as autistic. It is very scary as an adult who has “passed” for your whole life to come out as autistic. It is hard to tell people who might not believe you that you are autistic. I am absolutely positive that people have doubted my diagnosis, have said that I’m not autistic or not autistic enough.

I am not willing to do that to another person.

I will follow that up with the comment that I absolutely respect self-diagnosis and assert that there are many, many reasons that adults self-diagnose instead of seeking a professional opinion.

I also think it is hard to learn to own your autism when you come to it as an adult. There is a whole set of stigmas and hardships and abuses and discrimination that people who are diagnosed and out as young people have to deal with that I did not. I don’t have that experience. What I have is the very nervewracking experience of growing up different and eventually finding a name for it and finding the courage to take that label for myself.

Still, it is hard to take that label, especially when you have been trying to live as a neurotypical person. So I don’t take much offense to Seinfeld’s use of “on a drawn-out spectrum.” When I first started suspecting I was autistic, my statements were very tempered, “I have autistic traits…” and the like. It is too scary to just come out and say “I am autistic,” so it’s easier to make these softer statements like, “On a drawn-out spectrum…”

I do know that I identify with some aspects of his personality. I think about his comedy and his observational style of humor and about how so much of it is finding the absurd in the conventions of daily life.

I use humor. It is one of the most important things to me. I find life hilarious. I also use comedy as a shield. I use it as a defense mechanism. I use it to amuse myself when I find the typical world strange. I created an entire persona (hey there, Stimey!) that allows me to get out of the house and interact with the world without falling back into crushing depression or incapacitating anxiety. (Also medication. Meds help too.)

Furthermore, I have been closely observing people all of my life, from the gestures they use and the words they say to figuring out social conventions and how I’m supposed to react to things. I remember watching a scary movie as a young person and checking to see if people screamed words or just sounds so I would know what to do if I was ever attacked (by an alien). I remember watching people when I was in college and deciding that I should make eye contact because that’s what other people did, so I started doing it all the time. These are just a couple of examples.

I am not attributing my own feelings and past to Jerry Seinfeld. I’m just saying that when I think about what he said, it makes sense to me. Plus he hangs out with Larry David, and I’m sure those two have to have had conversations about autism, because have you ever listened to Larry David?

I do know that if I had come out as autistic and been attacked the way he has been, it would have broken me. I don’t know what is going on in his brain and I’m not going to judge. I hope he will choose to speak more about it and I hope it will help all of us in the autism community. Jerry Seinfeld has a huge public platform. I hope he uses it well.

That said, I also hope he finds identity and knowledge and acceptance just for himself, however he chooses to identify. Because that is what most of us want. Welcome, Jerry. I’m happy to have you in my community.